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Seeing a Drop in Productivity? Blame the Political Landscape

Seeing a Drop in Productivity? Blame the Political Landscape
Credit: RawPixel/Shutterstock

Although though the presidential election has been over for more than three months, that doesn't mean political discussions, and even arguments, have died down, new research finds.

A new study from BetterWorks, a provider of goal-setting and performance management software, found that not only have political discussions kept up a rapid pace, they're also starting to impact productivity.

The research found that 73 percent of the U.S. employees surveyed have talked about politics with their colleagues since the election, and 37 percent have had political discussions with their boss or manager.

Much of this talk has moved beyond just civil discourse. Nearly half of those surveyed have seen political conversations at work turn into legitimate arguments.

The study revealed that social media is contributing to the uptick in political talk and fights. Overall, 87 percent of the employees surveyed are reading political social media posts during the workday. Employees are reading, on average, 14 posts per day, with millennials reading 18 posts a day. The study's authors said this equates to an average of two hours per day of reading political social posts. [See Related Story: 4 Workplace Issues That Make Your Employees Less Productive]

Nearly 30 percent of those surveyed said they have been less productive since November's presidential election. That percentage increases to 35 percent of workers who read at least 10 political social media posts per day.

Kris Duggan, co-founder of BetterWorks, said employees aren’t just reading and talking about politics.

"They’re actually feeling distracted from their work, and dedicate much of their time (both at work and at home) to thinking about and processing the current political situation," Duggan wrote on the company's blog.

Since he doesn't anticipate the abundance of political news and social media posts going away anytime soon, Duggan believes employers need to help those in charge handle the situation.

"It's time for organizational leaders to shift their focus to empowering managers to deal with distraction," he wrote.

To keep employee productivity levels high, even in the face of major distraction and stress, Duggan offers managers several tips:

  1. Don't cut off social media. Instead of trying to micromanage how much time employees spend on social media reading about political events, cut them slack and let them have some space to keep informed of what is going on. Don't forget, employees were likely spending time during the workday checking their social networks long before the election.
  2. Don't change your goals. Even though productivity may have dipped a little at the start of the year, don't start altering what you expect employees to get done this quarter or year. Goals can often be a common ground between employees and managers. They add focus amidst the distraction and can serve as the impetus to get work done.
  3. Encourage work-life integration. Employers need to recognize that today's workplace is more about work-life integration and not just work-life balance. Understand that true work-life integration means employees will bring their personal lives, including their political beliefs, to work. Bosses should try to give their employees some latitude to read up on the news that maters to them and talk with their co-workers about it.
  4. No arguing. It is important bosses do everything they can to avoid fighting with anyone they manage. Those who feel that a political discussion with one of their employees could take a turn for the worse should change the subject before it takes a negative toll on their relationship. While political discussions are fine, those that turn into arguments can lead to a breach of trust in the manager-employee relationship.
  5. Bond over work. While you might not agree with some political stances your employees take, it's your job as a manager to give workers the means to stay focused and productive. When workers have the resources to stay focused, they can actually feel a reprieve from the stress they may be feeling over the political landscape. When you are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, find common ground with your employees in your overlapping work, and instead of focusing your attention on trying to change their political opinions, center your attention on meeting your work goals.

"When you have such a diverse group of individuals, it's important not to squash your employees’ desires to share what they believe in," Duggan said. "At the same time, remember to focus on empowering managers to help employees meet their goals and perform at their very best."

The study was based on surveys of 500 full-time U.S. employees.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.